At once the container of everyday life (i.e. where we live) and an active agent in it (a social-acting force). An incredibly wide-reaching term, with complex and even contradictory points of reference, it can refer to either the physical environment (built and natural) on its own or the physical environment as it is inhabited by defined groups of people, or both. Similarly, it can range in scale from the personal to the planetary. It is conceived differently by several different disciplines, each one emphasizing one or more of its facets—e.g. architecture, Cultural Studies, geography, history, sociology, planning, and urbanism—thus lending itself to an interdisciplinary approach.
French Marxist sociologist Henri Lefebvre is undoubtedly the most influential theorist of space in the 20th century. His distinction between perceived space, conceived space, and lived space—i.e. space as we see it (but also touch it, feel it, and so on), space as we design and build it, and space as something we relate to in an emotional and affective way—captures the principal ways in which space has been thought about in the past century. Visual artists have tended to foreground perceived space, architects and urbanists have tended to focus on conceived space, with cultural studies, geography, and sociology claiming lived space as their own. But as Lefebvre insists, these three types of space can only be separated in the abstract and the real task of spatial thinking is to try to think of the three facets of space together. American geographer Ed Soja refers to this process as trialectics and his work offers several interesting examples of how this can be made to work.
The other major theorists of space in the 20th century who have had a major influence on the field are: Gaston Bachelard, Maurice Blanchot, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel de Certeau and Marc Augé. Michel de Certeau opposed space to place, defining the latter as what space becomes through the investment of power. By implication, space is the preserve of the powerless according to Certeau; those who dwell in space rather than place are forced to use tactics against strategy. Drawing on Certeau’s work, Marc Augé created the concept of the non-place, which he also opposed to place: the non-place is a place invested by power that does not confer any of the benefits of place (such as belonging or locatedness)—his examples include subway systems, airports, and so on.
In his highly influential synopsis of postmodernism, Fredric Jameson argues that in the post World War II era there has been a mutation in the spatial environment. Drawing on Lefebvre, he foregrounds the fact that since 1945 there has been a massive demographic shift away from the country to the city, with the result that by the end of the century for the first time in human history more people live in cities than the country. But he also observes that in the West at least there has been a move towards creating structures that are self-contained, that seem to want to stand apart from the rest of the city, as though they were mini-worlds. His case in point, the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, has become since his discussion of it a key topos of postmodernity.
(Buchanan 2010, 445-6)
In psychoanalysis, the mental and physical manifestation—or symptom—of either
(i) a heightened amount of stimulation (specifically, sexual stimulation), or (ii) the absence or insufficiency of the processes of ‘working through’ or expelling excess excitation.
Anxiety is ideational inasmuch as it is always bound to an idea (i.e. a particular image or thought), but the idea is usually impossible to decipher or decode as a sign or substitute for another repressed idea. Anxiety differs from hysteria, which presents in a very similar manner, in that nervous tension is deflected onto a physical object, rather than the psyche. The two pathways are by no means mutually exclusive and they are often seen occurring together. In existentialism, particularly in the work of the Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard, anxiety is an unfocused, or objectless fear, such as the fear provoked by freedom—being free to do what one pleases creates the anxiety of not-knowing what one wants to do or indeed should do. This theme, the anxiety caused by freedom, is further developed in the work of Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. (Buchanan 2010, 22-3)
British philosopher J. L. Austin‘s term for a type of speech that performs an action. For example, the phrase ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’ performs the action of joining two people in marriage, provided the person who utters it is so empowered. Performatives do not always have to be as direct as that. If, for example, someone says ‘it is stuffy in here’ and we open a window in response, then it can be said that the phrase has a performative effect.
(Buchanan 2010, 22-3)
Samuel Beckett 1965 , En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot: a tragi-comedy in two acts), Faber and Faber, London.
The twentieth century brought us the age of global conflict. This week’s lecture will discuss Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, originally written in French and published as En attendant Godot in 1952. The focus on Beckett will take as its lead Theodor Adorno’s seminal statement, ‘[t]o write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’. An extract from Waiting for Godot directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the Beckett on Film project will be presented.
Samuel Beckett’s seminal play has been voted the “most significant English language play of the 20th century” (http://www.samuel-beckett.net/BerlinTraffic.html), a monumental achievement for a text where very little happens. Both of the supporting readings for this week will give you a deeper insight into the play and you are encouraged to read them before the lecture.
ALTERNATIVE CASE STUDIES:
Andrea Zittel 2004-2014, A-Z Uniform Project, Second Decade 2004-2014, garments, catalogue online at http://www.zittel.org/works.
Andrea Zittel has been living her art practice with the A-Z Uniform Project since 1994. Zittel designs and crafts a ‘uniform’ for each season, which is then worn every day. This project “proposes that liberation may … be possible through the creation of a set of personal restrictions or limitations” (http://www.zittel.org/works). As a practice in the postmodern manipulation of one’s personal space, Zittel’s project challenges the line between personal and public art. Our two supporting concepts, anxiety and performative, can be used to think about both the motivation behind this work and unpack the living of one’s work.
Read over the definition of the supporting concepts in your Buchanan’s and use your online research skills to find more about Zittel’s motivation in this project. Try to work out how this project can be read through the supporting concepts.
John Cage 1952, 4’33”, piano score.
Nothing induces anxiety more, as we know from Beckett, than waiting for something to happen. John Cage’s 4’33” is a piano score (that can also be played by other instruments) which asks the musician to sit in silence for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Cage’s piece has been called “evidence of the extremity of a destructive avant-garde that appeared in the 1950s and 60s” (http://rosewhitemusic.com/piano/writings/silence-taught-john-cage/). As baffling on first encounter as Godot, this work owns the performance space, making the audience and the hall into an integral part of the piece, with the rustlings and breathing of the audience and creaking of the architecture taking a more central role than either performer or instrument.
Watch Cage discuss the activity of sound and think about the influence of sound on space.
And this is my personal favourite cover of 4’33”:
Andrew Kotting 1984, Klipperty Klopp, Super 8 B&W/16mm optical print, Arts Council, Great Britain, available online at:
Andrew Kotting describes his 1984 student film as “a post punk piece of pagan sensibility, complete with bestiality, buggery and boundless energy” (video description, vimeo). Filmed on Super8, this 12 minute clip shows Kotting running in circles around a field pretending to be a horse and unpacking garbage from a shipping container, all backed with a monotonous almost nonsensical narration of the artist’s actions. The piece can be read as a kind of visual spoken word poetry, a performative absurdist exploration of ownership of space and time. Which the artist describes as “transportative” (YouTube clip linked below).
Kotting talks about his early influences and art practice here:
Richard Long 1967, A Line Made by Walking, Photograph and graphite on board, 375 x 324 mm, Tate, London.
Richard Long created this work by walking backwards and forwards across grass and then photographing the line his path left in the turf, recording the physical impact that his presence had on the physical environment. As a piece of avant garde performative art, Long’s conceptual photograph raises questions about what constitutes art and has been called “quietly revolutionary” (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/jun/15/richard-long-swinging-60s-interview) for reimagining the act of walking as a form of art. In an interview with The Guardian (linked above), Long said “The significance of walking in my work is that it brings time and space into my art; space meaning distance. A work of art can be a journey.
Stand up and walk away from your computer (or put your phone in your pocket), walk outside, close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them really look at the space around you. Think of what it means to use your body to create work, think performatively. Change one thing in your environment and take a photo of it (share it in the comments if you like).
Miroslaw Balka 2010, How It Is, steel, 13m x 30m, Tate Modern, London.
Polish artist Miroslaw Balka’s enormous steel structure has been described as “hovering somewhere between sculpture and architecture” (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/unilever-series-miroslaw-balka-how-it). This installation in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Gallery is a giant steel box, filled with echoing blackness. Viewers can walk underneath and around the work or ascend a sloping platform to enter the black void inside the work. There is nothing inside the box but darkness. Like Beckett, Balka’s work invokes darkness, suffering and the plight of the human body and in this work he offers viewers the chance to be immersed in nothingness. While many of this week’s case studies show the artist’s immersion in and interference with space, Balka’s extends this experience to the audience.
Use your online research skills to find videos of Balka’s installation and compare a few different views of encountering and entering the work.
Milutinović, Z. 2006, ‘The Death of Representation and the Representation of Death: Ionesco, Beckett, and Stoppard’, Comparative Drama, vol. 40, no. 3, pp337-364.
Worton, M. 1994, ‘Waiting for Godot and Endgame: theatre as text’, in Pilling, J (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Beckett, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp67-87.